As the United States prepares for a troop surge in Afghanistan in the new year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and senior commanders are concerned that the British government lacks the “political will” for the fight.

NATO Commander General John Craddock said last week that Britain must put more troops into Helmand province to defeat the Taliban insurgency.

In an interview with The Sunday Times at NATO’s supreme headquarters in Mons, Belgium, he said Gordon Brown’s announcement last Monday that more troops would bolster Britain’s 8,100-strong force in Afghanistan by March was not enough. Although planning is under way to send up to 3,000 extra troops to Afghanistan next summer if required, Brown committed only 300 in his statement.

“I don’t think 300 more, if you are talking about Helmand province, will do the trick. We’ve got to hold down there until we’ve got some Afghan street forces who can take over,” Craddock said.

Brown’s decision to pull out of southern Iraq - leaving US troops to fill the gap - and his reluctance to commit to sending a substantial number of extra troops to Afghanistan have rung alarm bells in Washington.

U.S. defense chiefs are concerned that Brown would rather pander to war fatigue back home than provide the long-term forces necessary for the new anti-Taliban surge. They fear the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan could soon make the war there as unpopular with the British as the conflict in Iraq.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup said last week that Britain would be able to redeploy some troops from Iraq to Afghanistan in the short term, but was ill equipped for a long fight. “We cannot just have a one-for-one transfer. The net result must be a reduction in our overall operation campaign,” said the defense chief.

A senior American defense adviser said Gates and US commanders were frustrated by the British response to their request for help. “They’re looking at the British government pulling out of Iraq and wondering, ‘Do they have the stomach for Afghanistan?’ Gates is concerned about the level of resources needed and the lack of political will to reinforce them.”

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